The right to adequate housing is a basic human right, and it’s protected by the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
Despite this, the number of rough sleepers has risen for the seventh year in a row, with more than 4,700 people thought to be living on the streets. Coupled with the number of children in temporary housing has increasing by a third since 2014, more than 300,000 people thought to be homeless in total, and around 78,000 families are living in temporary accommodation, and the total number of homeless people is expected to double by 2041.
These figures present a bleak picture for human rights of the homeless. That’s why 2018 must be the year that homelessness is actively addressed.
Homelessness and the Poverty Crisis
Photo by Vladimir Chuchadeev on Unsplash
While poverty is by no means the only cause of homelessness, it is not entirely separate from it. Research by UK charity Shelter has shown that high rents, a shortage of housing, insecure tenancies and cuts to Housing Benefit have all contributed to the rise in homelessness in recent years.
It’s a problem which is often exacerbated by a lack of available housing. The Council in the Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, for example, have come under fire after the news that almost 2000 properties were vacant – at the same time as scores of people were left homeless after the Grenfell Tower tragedy. More than a third of these empty properties have been unoccupied for over two years.
It’s a picture which is echoed across the country, with recent research showing more than 11,000 homes in the UK have stood empty for at least a decade. It’s a difficult balancing act – we all have a right to property thanks to the Human Rights Convention, but it is possible for property to be taken away when it is in the public interest to do so.
Homelessness Affects Other Human Rights
Photo by Vladimir Chuchadeev on Unsplash
Take the right to a private and family life, protected by Article 8 of the Human Rights Convention. This right also includes the protection of an individuals’ physical and psychological integrity, which is easily jeopardised without stable accommodation.
There’s a proven link between homelessness and poor physical and mental health. Poor health together with the uncertainty which homelessness brings can compromise the quality of family life. So, individuals’ right to health, family life and dignity are all endangered. In this interview with the BBC, a family made homeless described the adverse impact their circumstances had on their children’s mental well-being.
Homelessness also interferes with the right to education. Children living in overcrowded conditions are deprived of the space and privacy they need to do their homework, rest and play. Lack of sleep, the feeling of isolation which may result from their circumstances and their inability to focus on their studies can all affect children’s educational attainment and ultimately their life chances.
So, What Should Be Done?
New Housing Minister Dominic Raab, via Number 10 / Flickr
MPs have recognised that homelessness is a national crisis. This, together with the government’s pledge to invest over £950m by 2020 to tackle homelessness, is very welcome.
But it’s not enough. The council leader for Windsor recently declared his plans to clear the area of homeless people before the royal wedding and on Christmas day, more than one hundred households affected by the Grenfell tower were still living in hotels.
A failure to take any meaningful action worsens the social isolation of those left homeless, and jeopardises their wider human rights. The fact that official figures and statistics on homelessness fail to provide us with a full picture of the problem makes it even more incumbent on officials to address the wider problems underlying homelessness.
We’ve got a new Housing Minister, and the homelessness crisis needs to be controlled before it spirals even further out of control. Homeless humans are still human, and there is a pressing need to stand up for their rights now more than ever.
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